Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The View from Greece

We just got back from a spring break trip to Greece. Believe it or not, Athens is less than 2 hours from Cairo by airplane. We spent two days in Athens, checking out the Acropolis, a lot of classical architecture and other sites.

From there we headed out to Hydra, one of the Saronic Islands for a week. There are no cars, motorcycles, or even bicycles permitted on the island. You travel around by climbing steps so there is little use for wheels. We hired a donkey to carry our bags from the ferry to where we stayed. I have never thought of myself as particularly sentimental (not sure what blog-readers who know me think) but Hydra definitely struck a chord. There is an irony in much of it. The same qualities that are oftentimes a source of complaint in our lives—products are scarce, shopping is limited and can be expensive, transportation is inconvenient—become romantic when placed in a context outside of our day-to-day lives. Many of the inconveniences actually comprise the romance.

This was the street where we stayed:

Hydra is really peaceful, which may be a bit ironic given its prided in its role in the 1820’s war for Greek independence. The Hydra History Museum even displays the embalmed heart of an admiral; it is in this metal urn (though it is not visible).

There were some nice walks and hikes, including one to a mountaintop monastery. Lots of strolls along the Aegean Sea. By the end of the week, either it was warm enough or we were brave enough to go swimming from a rock beach near the small studio apartment we rented. (On the 5 minute walk from our place to the waterfront we passed by some ostriches!)

The water was cold, but we became the crazy people going out there. I brought my snorkel gear and went out for 20-30 minutes each day; once I got warmed up, the cold was not as devastating as it felt at first. The reefs and fish were basic but the water is so clear that I really enjoyed all of the views and even the basic formations.

The other remarkable part was that we visited during Holy Week, the week of Eastern Easter, so we were witness to all of the local Greek Orthodox traditions. On Thursday, the churches decorate the bier which they take into the water at Kamini Harbor in a Good Friday ceremony that attracts the entire population of the island (a couple of thousand people). There a parade of candle-holding parishioners lead the bier, held by a posse of teenage boys, into the harbor for a ceremony called the epitaphio.

Pretty amazing. Then on Saturday night at midnight, they begin the festivities of Easter beginning with mass, another candlelight procession, lamb soup, and lots of “bombs”—firecrackers wrapped in newspaper which make loud noises throughout the night, and really the entire weekend. Sadly, we had to leave on Sunday in order to get our flight back home so we missed a day spent roasting lambs (though we got to smell it in the morning).

Fortunately, on the other hand, we did leave in advance of Tuesday’s main event--the lynching of Judas. We did not escape untouched. When we went to the main harbor to wait for our ferry on Sunday morning, he was already strung up. Our farewell to a week on Hydra was a frightening effigy of this disturbingly swarthy Judas awaiting his punishment. I’m sorry to say I don’t know anything more about this tradition, and I am uncomfortable even posting such a disturbing image on my blog.


NMK said...

You old softie, loving the low-tech life! :D

irad said...

I know you're right--maybe I should explore the woods of the Pacific NW?

Heather said...

Weird question, Ira, but did you see any ostriches near the water? I saw some ostriches along the ocean at the Cape of Good Hope, and my guide told me it's rare to see them near the water. I can't tell from your photo how close they were.

irad said...

The ostriches were on a fenced-in field (ostrich farm?). They were up on a hill overlooking the sea, so they were probably only 100-200 meters away.